Staying vegetarian could be a matter of your genes

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No doubt there are good reasons for us to switch to a vegetarian diet.


On a global scale, it is estimated that the food system is responsible for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions.

This environmental reality is unlikely to improve if the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) projections materialise.

In a report describing the outlook for agriculture between 2021 and 2030, the organisation estimates that meat consumption is set to increase by 14%, which will inevitably lead to the expansion of agricultural crops to 4% more land.

Yet, the production of meat, dairy products and all the crops needed to feed livestock already monopolise 80% of the Earth’s agricultural land.

Meanwhile, numerous chefs are successfully serving up meat-free dishes without sacrificing flavour.

But going fully vegetarian doesn’t come easy to everyone.

In fact, scientists suggest that our genetic makeup could play a role in our ability to forego meat.

In research recently published in the journal PLOS One, American and British scientists explain that “these results support a role for genetics in choosing a vegetarian diet and open the door to future studies aimed at further elucidating the physiologic pathways involved in vegetarianism”.

Study author and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine professor emeritus of pathology Dr Nabeel Yaseen explains in a statement that “while religious and moral considerations certainly play a major role in the motivation to adopt a vegetarian diet, our data suggest that the ability to adhere to such a diet is constrained by genetics”.

And it could all be to do with lipids (or fats), the researchers suggest, with some people potentially unable to do without certain components found in lipids from meat.


The researchers identified several genes as being associated with vegetarianism, including some involved in lipid metabolism and others involved in brain function.

“One area in which plant products differ from meat is complex lipids,” Prof Emeritus Nabeel explains.

“My speculation is there may be lipid component(s) present in meat that some people need.

“And maybe people whose genetics favour vegetarianism are able to synthesize these components endogenously (i.e. in the body).

“However, at this time, this is mere speculation and much more work needs to be done to understand the physiology of vegetarianism.”

To reach these conclusions, the genetic data of 5,324 strict vegetarians – eating no fish, poultry or red meat – were compared with 329,455 meat-eating control subjects.

The composition of meals eaten between 2006 and 2019 was analysed to provide as many elements of comparison as possible.

This is not the first time that a potential link between genetics and food preferences has been established.

Previous research, published in the journal Nature, had shed some light on why certain people dislike coriander.

Scientists had identified two genes related to this: one related to odour appreciation and the other responsible for the link between taste and smell.
-AFP Relaxnews

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